Wine column for week of 5 August 2013

The reputation of Portuguese wine is in the ascendant. Three decades ago wine from that country, apart from port, was dismissed as ordinary, typically fit for bulk containers. Today things are very different. Wine producers have placed an emphasis on quality, and Portugal now has some great brands. Australian Peter Bright is the winemaker in charge of Terras de Alter wines, and one of the people behind the surge in quality in Portugal. Bright has lived in Portugal since 1982. That year Bright created the João Pires wine, which remains a milestone among Portuguese whites. He has won trophies at the International Wine Challenge in London and in 1992 was named Portugal’s red winemaker of the year. In 2004 Bright founded Terras de Alter winery. It is in the Alentejo region, about 200km west of the capital Lisbon. Planting of vineyards in the Alentejo region started during the Romans era 2,000 years ago. Some Alentejo wineries still use talhas – large terracotta pots – for fermentation of must and storage of wine. The Alentejo region is commonly known as the “bread basket” of Portugal. It is also home of the world’s most important area for growing cork. All Terras de Alter wines have cork closures. Here are notes on some of the best. The 2010 Terra d’Alter reserve white is a blend dominated by viognier (80 per cent) plus 10 per cent each of arinto and verdelho. The handpicked grapes are from the Alto Alentejo, the area of the region with high altitudes (alto means high). Much of the region is flat. Winemaker Bright said after three days in contact with grape skins the juice was transferred to tank and barrels. “After a prolonged and cold natural fermentation the wine was kept with its yeast lees until bottling on March 2011.” The wine is a delight on a summer’s day. One the nose it offers notes of apricots and pink grapefruit. It tastes of ripe peaches and lemon curd, with a lean mineral structure and a sense of richness that is characteristic of viognier. The 2011 Terra d’Alter Arinto is made entirely from the arinto grape, a traditional variety in Alentejo. Bright said it “ages beautifully, just like riesling”. Grapes were picked early to preserve the fresh acidity. The wine has a flinty nose of freshly-cut herbs and lemon tang. Its spicy zing dazzles in the mouth. Highlight of the tasting of whites was the Telhas 2010, made entirely from viognier. Grapes are grown on a granite ridge of the company’s Anta vineyard. Bright said it was probably the site of a Roman villa and cemetery because this block is littered with terracotta tile fragments. “Hence the name Telhas, Portuguese for roof tiles.” The 2010 was the first vintage of this wine prior to its commercial release via the 2011 edition. It is like a high-end Condrieu. Indeed, Bright said he “saw the light” about making viognier after tasting Condrieu wines by George Vernay in 2009. Bright made two experimental versions of this viognier before he released the 2011. His motto is “experiment, but don’t mix styles”. The wine spent half a year in new oak. It is deep yellow in colour with intense aromas of dried and sun-ripened apricots amid several layers of texture and richness. The latter is the result of picking late, in September. This is a superb wine that helps one understand the complexity and joy of well-made viognier. After many years where consumers preferred reds, white wines are becoming popular in Portugal. They now represent half of all sales. This is reflected in the cost of white grapes, which currently tend to be more expensive than red grapes. Of the red wines, the Telhas 2009 was a treasure. It is 95 per cent syrah with the rest viognier, and it is also from the Antas vineyard which provided the Telhas white. “Viognier has phenolics like syrah, also know as shiraz. The ingredients are co-fermented with indigenous yeast in small open tanks. Fermentation is finished in mostly new American oak barrels with battonage followed by malolactic fermentation and 18 months maturation.” Battonage involves stirring of the lees to increase flavours in wine. After decanting, this wine had a perfumed nose of violets, mocha, pepper and tar, and tasted of oriental spices and sandalwood with a range of ripe red berry fruits. The Outeiro is Peter Bright’s flagship red. His 2007 edition won the Great Gold Medal at the 2009 world wine competition in Brussels. The 2008 is equally magnificent. It has already won a gold medal at the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles in 2010. Outeiro is a blend of syrah (50 per cent) and petit verdot (47 per cent) with 3 per cent alfrocheiro. It is made with wild yeasts. “The grapes are co-fermented. Fermentation was finished in new American oak barrels with battonage followed by malolactic fermentation and 14 months maturation,” Bright said. The 2008 Outeiro has huge presence and intensity, and tastes of a range of red and black fruit plus notes of spice and mocha. The wine has an elegant structure and great complexity. The tannins are fine and the palate feels creamy, the result of the barrel fermentation. Bright described it as “a steel fist in a velvet glove”. Words: 851

Categories: Not home, wine

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